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Friday, May 08, 2015

Possibly terrorism in Naltar helicopter crash

Pakistan helicopter crash kills Norwegian, Philippine ambassadors A Pakistan military helicopter carrying diplomats to inspect a tourism project crashed on Friday killing seven people, including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines and the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was traveling to the mountainous northern region of Gilgit on a separate aircraft when the accident happened. He returned to Islamabad, his office said. Norwegian Ambassador Leif Larsen, Philippine Ambassador Domingo Lucenario and the wives of the ambassadors of Malaysia and Indonesia were killed, along with two pilots and a crew member, military spokesman Asim Bajwa said in Twitter posts. He said initial information indicated the cause was a technical fault. The foreign secretary also said technical problems caused the crash. "Apparently its engine failed," Foreign Secretary Azaz Chaudhry said. "It was not terrorism." The Pakistani Taliban claimed they shot down the aircraft but witnesses on the ground, and in other helicopters on the trip, reported nothing to indicate any firing. Malaysian state media identified the wife of the ambassador as Habibah Mahmud, while Indonesia said its ambassador Burhan Muhammad was injured and his wife, Heri Listyawati Burhan Muhammad, was killed. Bajwa said the ambassadors of Poland and the Netherlands were among the injured. The ambassadors of South Africa, Lebanon and Romania were also on board, according to a flight list obtained by Reuters. The Romanian Foreign Ministry said its ambassador was alive and uninjured. An official in Gilgit said nine people had been killed. "The bodies are so badly torched that they can't be identified," said Sibtain Ahmed, the home secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Foreign Office said 17 people were on board the Mi-17 when it crashed into a school in Gilgit and caught fire. Media said there were 11 foreigners and six Pakistanis. "GOOD REPUTATION" Farmer Shakil Ahmed saw the helicopter crash into the school roof from his house about 100 meters away. "The helicopter came very close to the helipad, maybe 250 meters in the air, just above the school," Ahmed told Reuters. "It hovered there for a while and then tried to turn when it crashed. Thankfully there were no kids in the school because it was an off-day for security reasons. The helicopter caught fire and was on fire for over an hour." Pakistani Taliban militants said they brought down the helicopter with a shoulder-launched missile, adding they had been hoping to shoot down Sharif's aircraft. "Nawaz Sharif and his allies are our prime targets," Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in an emailed statement. Gilgit, about 250 km (150 miles) north of Islamabad, is not a militant stronghold and the Taliban often claim responsibility for incidents that they had nothing to do with. The Mi-17 is considered a reliable, no-frills helicopter, first built by Russians for use in hot and high conditions in Asia, said James Hardy, the Asia-Pacific editor for IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. "The military has a lot of money and a good reputation for looking after its equipment," he said. "The air force is well trained and highly professional." The Pakistan military was believed to operate about 29 Mi-17s and the air force about six, he said. Media have reported four other Mi-17 crashes in Pakistan in the last 11 years. (Additional reporting by Manzar Shigri in GILGIT, Katharine Houreld in ISLAMABAD, Syed Raza Hassan in KARACHI, Luiza Ilie in BUCHAREST, Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie, Larry King) left3 of 3right Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force, enquires Malaysian Ambassador Hasrul Sani Mujtabar about his health at the CMH hospital in Gilgit, Pakistan, in handout picture received on May 8, 2015. REUTERS/PAKISTAN AIR FORCE/HANDOUT left1 of 3right left2 of 3right left3 of 3right left1 of 3right A Pakistan military helicopter carrying diplomats to inspect a tourism project crashed on Friday killing seven people, including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines and the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was traveling to the mountainous northern region of Gilgit on a separate aircraft when the accident happened. He returned to Islamabad, his office said. Norwegian Ambassador Leif Larsen, Philippine Ambassador Domingo Lucenario and the wives of the ambassadors of Malaysia and Indonesia were killed, along with two pilots and a crew member, military spokesman Asim Bajwa said in Twitter posts. He said initial information indicated the cause was a technical fault. The foreign secretary also said technical problems caused the crash. "Apparently its engine failed," Foreign Secretary Azaz Chaudhry said. "It was not terrorism." The Pakistani Taliban claimed they shot down the aircraft but witnesses on the ground, and in other helicopters on the trip, reported nothing to indicate any firing. Malaysian state media identified the wife of the ambassador as Habibah Mahmud, while Indonesia said its ambassador Burhan Muhammad was injured and his wife, Heri Listyawati Burhan Muhammad, was killed. Bajwa said the ambassadors of Poland and the Netherlands were among the injured. The ambassadors of South Africa, Lebanon and Romania were also on board, according to a flight list obtained by Reuters. The Romanian Foreign Ministry said its ambassador was alive and uninjured. An official in Gilgit said nine people had been killed. "The bodies are so badly torched that they can't be identified," said Sibtain Ahmed, the home secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Foreign Office said 17 people were on board the Mi-17 when it crashed into a school in Gilgit and caught fire. Media said there were 11 foreigners and six Pakistanis. "GOOD REPUTATION" Farmer Shakil Ahmed saw the helicopter crash into the school roof from his house about 100 meters away. "The helicopter came very close to the helipad, maybe 250 meters in the air, just above the school," Ahmed told Reuters. "It hovered there for a while and then tried to turn when it crashed. Thankfully there were no kids in the school because it was an off-day for security reasons. The helicopter caught fire and was on fire for over an hour." Pakistani Taliban militants said they brought down the helicopter with a shoulder-launched missile, adding they had been hoping to shoot down Sharif's aircraft. "Nawaz Sharif and his allies are our prime targets," Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in an emailed statement. Gilgit, about 250 km (150 miles) north of Islamabad, is not a militant stronghold and the Taliban often claim responsibility for incidents that they had nothing to do with. The Mi-17 is considered a reliable, no-frills helicopter, first built by Russians for use in hot and high conditions in Asia, said James Hardy, the Asia-Pacific editor for IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. "The military has a lot of money and a good reputation for looking after its equipment," he said. "The air force is well trained and highly professional." The Pakistan military was believed to operate about 29 Mi-17s and the air force about six, he said. Media have reported four other Mi-17 crashes in Pakistan in the last 11 years. (Additional reporting by Manzar Shigri in GILGIT, Katharine Houreld in ISLAMABAD, Syed Raza Hassan in KARACHI, Luiza Ilie in BUCHAREST, Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie, Larry King) "......." Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry ruled out the possibility of terrorism in causing a Pakistan Army helicopter to crash in Naltar valley of Gilgit-Baltistan on Friday morning, terming it an accident, adding that the blackbox of the aircraft had been recovered. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad on Friday evening, Chaudhry dismissed as “bogus” a claim made by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan that they had shot down the helicopter carrying diplomats. Seven people, including two diplomats and two pilots were killed when the helicopter crashed into a school in the scenic valley. He added that there was no security lapse with nearly 1,000 soldiers deployed and all heights (high vantage points) occupied by security forces. “It was purely an accident, and accidents do happen,” he said adding that the ill-fated helicopter had suffered a technical fault near the site of landing. Commenting on the condition of the helicopter, Chaudhry said that it was regularly serviced with the last one just 11 hours before the crash. Army chief forms board of inquiry Chaudhry said that the blackbox of the helicopter had been found and that the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif had constituted a board of inquiry which will be headed by a Brigadier. He added that the results of this inquiry will be made public. Priority to bring injured, dead back to Islamabad The foreign secretary said that the priority at this point was to bring the injured and the dead to Islamabad as soon as weather allowed. Giving details of those injured, he said that the Indonesian ambassador had suffered 75% burns and was in critical condition. The Dutch and Polish ambassadors, who had suffered neck and head injury and spinal injury respectively, were both out of danger.

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